What Does a Successful Employee Well-Being Program Look Like?

Research shows employee well-being is associated with less absenteeism, higher engagement, and increased productivity. A new guide offers a blueprint to transform your employee wellness program so that it benefits your association and its staff.

Since the pandemic began, there has been an increased focus on employee wellness, with many associations improving their well-being offerings and benefits.  And there’s good reason for that, as money spent on employee well-being gets a 600 percent return on investment, according to HR research and advisory firm McLean & Company.

To help organizations achieve that ROI, McLean & Company created an employee well-being program blueprint, which is essentially a roadmap to help them either build a successful wellness program or revamp their current offerings so staff use the resources available to them.

“Rather than creating a new program, HR can focus on communicating the resources and supports that are already available to promote uptake,” said Grace Ewles, manager, HR research and advisory services, at McLean & Company. “HR needs to encourage leaders to role model well-being behaviors—encouraging employees to take sick days when needed—and reinforce social norms that support work-life boundaries, such as minimizing after-hours communication.”

If organizations need more evidence about the importance of investing in these programs, the blueprint notes that every $1 spent on well-being results in a $3.27 decrease in medical costs and a $2.73 decrease in absenteeism costs.

However, despite known ROI for employers, the truth is that many existing employee well-being programs aren’t effective. According to McLean & Company, most organizations (63 percent) report less than half of their employees participate in their well-being programs. So, how do organizations move the needle on participation? Here are two ideas:

Talk to employees in various segments—such as experience, role, key demographics—about their needs. “This information allows organizations to design targeted solutions that address underlying stressors and provide a nuanced understanding of well-being trends over time,” Ewles said. “At a minimum, well-being program goals and metrics should be revisited annually, in addition to collecting regular employee feedback to identify changes in employee needs.”

Look at how the workflow might contribute to employee stress. “Data shows that the top contributors to stress and burnout are work factors that are outside of employees’ control, including workload, limited role clarity, and a lack of supervisor support,” Ewles said. “Effective well-being programs focus on top-down approaches that address broader systemic barriers and promote holistic well-being.”

Implementation Tips

Organizations thinking about starting or updating a wellness program may wonder how long such an initiative might take. Ewles said it will depend on your specific program.

“Every organization’s approach to well-being will be unique with solutions that are tailored to employee needs,” Ewles said. “Programs must be adaptive in order to be effective, taking into account the evolving nature of employee needs based on individual circumstances and external influences, the pandemic being a perfect example.”

In terms of where to begin, use data to figure out the highest priorities for your employees and start there.

“Focus internal efforts on the most pressing employee needs and systemic barriers,” Ewles said. “If resources are scarce, it is better to start with fewer solutions that will have a high impact on affected employees and scale the program over time. Depending on the size and complexity of the program, additional resources may be required.”

One thing to note is that progress doesn’t always look like progress immediately, so don’t get discouraged.

“In some cases, financial metrics may increase in the short-term, such as an increase in the number of sick days and health claims submitted by employees,” Ewles said. “However, these changes are often a positive sign, demonstrating an increase in employee willingness to access available supports. It is important to be patient and leverage internal feedback channels in the short term to provide a pulse on changes, with the larger return on investment becoming apparent over time.”

She adds that moving to a “holistic employee well-being program shifts organizations from reactive to proactive and requires a long-term perspective.”

How does your current wellness program address employee needs? Share in the comments.

(elenabs/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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